Communities Need More Ladders, Fewer Chutes

Nov 8, 2013, 1:33 PM, Posted by Katie Loovis

Glaxo COH blog post_Loovis GlaxoSmithKline supports some urban redevelopment projects because they lead to healthier communities—this piece of artwork, for example, inspires community members to bike around town. (Photo: GSK)

Katie Loovis is director of U.S. community partnerships and stakeholder engagement for GlaxoSmithKline, the global health care company. In this role, Katie is responsible for providing leadership and shaping strategy for GSK’s U.S. community engagement and philanthropic activities at the national, state, and local levels, and building relationships.

Chutes and Ladders—one of the greatest board games in human history—is a game of rewards and consequences. You make a move and are met with a benefit (ladder to a higher level) or a detriment (chute to a lower level). All the while, you’re aiming for the top, journeying toward the blue ribbon finish.

Living a long and healthy life is kind of like a game of chutes and ladders. You might go along thinking that by visiting your doctor every year (ladder) and choosing to nosh on lots of veggies (ladder) that you are on-track, but ... sorry! Your neighborhood lacks a grocery store stocked with healthy foods (chute), it doesn’t have any safe parks or green spaces to exercise (chute), you live in a house full of smokers (chute); and to top it all off, you just lost your job in this tough economy (chute !).

A lot of factors affect our health outside our doctor’s office and beyond the power of our own individual choice. Community factors such as safety, the accessibility of healthy foods and recreational spaces, and the support of families and social networks, undeniably contribute to our health. The more we understand the connection between our health and our community, the more opportunities we have to improve it.

RWJF offers a superb resource called the County Health Rankings and Roadmap (CHRR) to help us understand these community factors, create community improvement plans, and even earn financial prizes for outstanding progress.

Informed by CHRR as well as by conversations we held with community and health leaders in Denver and St. Louis, GSK just launched a new charitable pilot grant program. The goal of the GSK IMPACT Grants is to help disadvantaged youth in St. Louis and Denver live healthier lives. Through the program, we will partner with creative nonprofits that are building ladders and removing chutes for a healthier community. We want to work with smart and energetic leaders who understand that improving health requires us aligning our work and collaborating for greater collective impact.

If you are part of an already established and promising collaborative effort that is fostering a healthier Metropolitan Denver or Greater St. Louis, I hope you will consider applying for the GSK IMPACT Grants. Learn more about the program through my recent blog.